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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preparatory Session for the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate

FPC Briefing
Todd Stern
Special Envoy for Climate Change
Michael Froman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 24, 2009

Date: 04/24/2009 Description: Todd Stern (left), Special Envoy for Climate Change and Michael Froman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, brief on the preparatory session for the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.  State Dept Photo

10:30 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center this morning. We’re extremely pleased this morning to have Todd Stern, our Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Michael Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, joining us this morning. As you know, there will be a meeting of 17 nations on the issue of climate change at the State Department Monday and Tuesday, and they’re here to talk about that meeting.

Thank you so much.

MR. FROMAN: Good morning. Thank you for coming and covering this today. My name is Mike Froman. I’m Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, and I’m serving as chair of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

I just wanted to say a few words about the mechanics of the forum by way of background, and then introduce Todd Stern, who’s our U.S. Representative and Special Envoy and is the lead U.S. official at the forum.

The first working session of the Major Economies Forum next week brings together representatives from 17 of the world’s major economies, including major developing countries China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Indonesia. Together, they represent 75 percent of global emissions. And we believe that it is critical that those 17 be able to make progress on the outstanding issues and reach political consensus if there is to be a deal in Copenhagen, as well as to make progress on the transformational technologies that are necessary to develop if we’re going to solve the climate change problem. This is part of the President’s overall effort to build a clean energy economy, to create green jobs, and to create greater energy independence.

We plan to have three working sessions of the Major Economies Forum over the next few months in preparation for a leaders meeting that will take place on the margins of the G-8 meeting in Italy in July. We’re looking forward to having this dialogue this week. This is the beginning of a process, and we kept the dialogue relatively small in order to facilitate open and intensive discussion.

At that, let me turn it over to Todd Stern, our Special Envoy.

MR. STERN: Thanks, Mike. Thank you all for coming today in advance of our first working session of the Major Economies Forum. As Mike said, I’m the Special Envoy for Climate Change at State, and I’ll be representing the United States at this forum.

Let me say just a couple things before taking questions. As Mike said, the forum, as we see it, essentially has a two-part mission: One is to promote the kind of discussion that we hope will build political consensus and facilitate ultimate agreement in Copenhagen; and second, is to build a strong commitment among these leading economies for concrete cooperations on some of the – cooperation on some of the technologies and policies that will be vital to making the kind of progress that science tells us we need to make. So a Copenhagen part and a technology part, as we see the forum.

The point of the forum is to bring leaders together in a smaller, more intimate, informal kind of setting than is available in the larger framework convention setting, to be able to do that at the leaders level and to have all of the kind of preparatory sessions and perhaps follow-up sessions that happen at the level of ministers and representatives.

The forum, I think, offers critical opportunity to explore how we can all best work together to ensure an outcome that is pragmatic and successful to put the world on a clean energy path. And this preparatory meeting – this first meeting in April – is obviously just the start of the process.

To be quite clear, we don’t see this as a substitute for the framework convention in any way, shape, or form. It rather is intended to be a means to facilitate progress in that larger forum, and anything that we accomplish in the smaller setting will, of course, have to be taken back into the framework convention. We do think there’s real value in convening the major economies in this way, and that’s why we’re going ahead to do it.

And with that, I’m happy to take any questions that you might have.

MODERATOR: Ladies, and gentlemen, let me remind you to identify yourself and your news organization and to wait for the microphone.

Yes, Andrei.

QUESTION: Thank you, Keith. Andrei Sitov from TASS from Russia. I guess my question is to Mr. Froman more than to the ambassador. It’s – is it a good time, basically, for restricting – for major steps on the climate front when we’re facing this huge crisis in the world economy where people need to make economic steps to come out, to stimulate their economies? And we all know that climate will put restrictions on that – can put restrictions on that?

MR. FROMAN: I think both challenges, dealing with the current crisis and dealing with the ongoing potential crisis of climate change, are both urgent and important, and we need to address both at the same time. The climate change issues are – they’re immediate, but they’re also longer term in nature. It will take some time to take steps and to reach agreements and to implement those agreements, but we need to get started immediately.

I don’t know, Todd, whether you have anything further on that?

MR. STERN: Well, I would just add, I guess, one additional point, which is that it is terribly important that as we work to get out of this economic recession, we do it in a way, frankly, that President Obama has tried to do, by making the recovery a clean energy recovery. There’s something in the order of $70 or $80 billion in the U.S. recovery package that is intended to develop clean energy infrastructure and technology. And if you fail to do that, and instead try to stimulate your economy in ways that lock in a high carbon future, you are just going to create a longer term problem. So I think that you do have to do both of these things together.

MODERATOR: Corine. Other side.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Corine Lesnes from Le Monde. Just a question – what a difference with the forum that was prepared and executed by the previous administration under major emitters? And a second point, how do you avoid to transform this in a north-south confrontation?

MR. STERN: On the first point, I think that President Bush had the idea of bringing these countries together, and we think that was a good idea. The difference, I think, from our point of view, is that the previous administration set up the right forum, but we are seeking to invigorate this process and to infuse it with a real mission and with real content.

We have – the President is deeply committed to moving forward on this issue, not only domestically, in a way completely different from the previous administration, with a large-scale, mandatory program to develop clean energy and control climate change, and to seek a strong, important, international agreement in ways that were not true in the previous administration. So this is – it’s – the forum was right before. We’re trying to infuse it with content.

Oh, I’m sorry, the second question, north-south. Look, it’s – this issue – I’ve been working on this issue since the days of the Clinton White House. This issue is shot through with north-south emotion. It just is. I mean, you can’t avoid that. What you can do, and I think we need to do, is try to move past that, to treat each other respectfully and as partners. You know, when I have talked with – when I went with Mrs. Clinton to China, when I’ve met with the senior negotiator from India, and many other countries, we have tried to approach this in every case as dealing with partners and from a posture of respect and good feeling.

But we won’t get a deal done unless we can move past that kind of – that kind of perspective and start looking at things in a more pragmatic way, which is absolutely motivated by and in a way that reflects the – what science tells us needs to be done, absolutely, but also can approach things pragmatically.

MODERATOR: Okay, Daniel.

QUESTION: My name is Daniel Anyz with Czech Daily paper Hospodarske Noviny. I just read the headline from today’s Wall Street Journal: Democrats Weigh Break for Utilities on Climate Change Bill. So how much control does White House have on the outcome of the Congress negotiation and concerning the timetable and concerning the content of the bill?

MR. FROMAN: Look, the White House is working closely with Congress. Congressmen Waxman and Markey have put in legislation, which is a good start. They put in what they call a discussion draft. There’s still some elements of the bill that aren’t finished yet, but it’s a good start. We’ll be working closely with them.

The ultimate control of the schedule on which legislation like that moves through subcommittee, moves through full committee, moves to the floor. Ultimately, that isn’t in – much more in control of Congress than the Administration. But we have been working with them and we will continue to work closely with them.


QUESTION: Brian Beary from Europolitics. Everybody’s waiting for June for the U.S. to put its position paper for the United Nations talks. Is that going to happen? Are we going to see some real figures on the table in June?

And just maybe a more technical question. I remember when President Bush had this forum, it was the Council of Environmental Quality, Chairman Connaughton that was chairing it. I’m just wondering why the switch has now gone to yourself and the NSA?

MR. STERN: The – and let me take your second question first. The arrangements that are – the way that we are dealing with this is much more the traditional way that this issue has been dealt with in the U.S. Government, which is to say that the international negotiator is based out of the State Department, working closely with the NSC and others in the White House. It was more of an aberration than the norm to have CEQ, the Council on Environmental Quality, involved in that way in the international – on the international side. So, now I’ve – yeah, I’m sorry.

MR. FROMAN: And just to clarify, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think actually it was my predecessor, Dan Price, who chaired the meeting and Connaughton was the lead U.S. representative. So that – as Todd said, that role has shifted back to where it traditionally belongs, which is at the State Department.

MR. STERN: But you had a first question. Now, I --

QUESTION: Do you --

MR. STERN: Oh, yes. Yes, we will be making submissions for the June meeting with the U.S. about numbers in particular. What I have said about this is that I think we will be fundamentally guided by what happens in Congress. Now there’s – there isn’t – there shouldn’t be any mystery about where the United States stands vis-à-vis numbers.

There are now two numbers that are on the table that are relevant to look at. One is what the President has already said. It goes back to his campaign and it was repeated again in his budget and in other places, which is about a 14, 15 percent reduction from 2005, and about an 83, I think, percent reduction by 2050. And I actually meant to, but didn’t calculate what that would work out to in 2030. But it’s a – it would be a step down – stepwise, decreased from 2020 to 2050, so – or from 2012, really, to 2050. So that’s what the President has said.

Now there’s another data point that’s – and it’s relevant, which is what Congressman Waxman has laid down, which is quite similar – a few points more than what the President had articulated. And Congressman Waxman’s bill would provide a 20 percent decrease against the 2005 baseline by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and again, about 80 percent, the same as the President, by 2050. So that’s – those are the kinds of numbers that are being discussed here. It’s not going to be something dramatically different from that. But it does need to be guided by what happens on Capitol Hill because Capitol Hill ultimately – the Congress ultimately has to approve of anything that gets – that – any treaty that – or agreement that comes out of Copenhagen.

So it is important that what we do there be kind of well synched up with the – with what goes on in Congress. And quite frankly, we don’t want to have a repeat of a situation where we can sign a lovely agreement in some foreign capitol and then not have it approved back here. That doesn’t – that does not do anybody in the world any good.

MODERATOR: Yes, and right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Shanshan Wang from China Radio International. I’ve got two follow-up questions. The first one is: How do you foresee the influence of the global economic crisis on the global climate change talk? Will it get more – even more difficult? And the second one is – the forum was held several times during the Bush Administration, but without much result. What kind of changes will we see this time to make it work? Thank you.

MR. FROMAN: I think on the first one, I would just build on what Todd said before, which is that the leaders of the major economies – and we have the G-20 recent summit meeting to point to – are keenly aware of the linkage and the importance of dealing both with the international financial and economic crisis, and dealing with the climate change issues. And as Todd said, there is a great commitment on the part of the major economies to try and go through a green recovery, and to take steps to create green jobs, to take steps to reduce – in the case of the U.S. – dependence on foreign oil, and to take steps to create a clean energy economy overall.

And I think, in fact, this crisis gives us the opportunity, through the stimulus spending and other measures, to – the recovery measures – to try and invest in these technologies and in changes in our economy, so that when we come out of this and we come through the recovery, we’ll be better positioned for a clean energy economy.

MR. STERN: I think we have one other question, which is – referenced the forums held under the Bush Administration.

Look, I – first of all, there’s no magic assurance of success, so that – we know that. But there’s a fundamental difference between what we’re trying to do and what the Bush Administration was trying to do, which again, is that we are very keen on trying to achieve a strong robust agreement in Copenhagen with all the major players a part of it. And the Bush Administration had a quite different perspective on what they wanted to do or what they didn’t want to do.

So we’re trying to get this thing done, and we’ve got, as I said before and Mike said also, significant ambitions with respect to the technology side. Whatever gets agreed to in Copehagen, countries are going to have to actually go ahead and make reductions. And the actual making of the reductions is going to depend upon breakthroughs in technology. And so we have – we have a very different perspective on the scope of the problem and what we want to do about it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to – that it’s going to be a – it doesn’t assure success, but we have a very different going-in position than the Bush Administration had.

MODERATOR: Yes, right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Bruno Garcez from BBC, Brazil. Brazil, as the U.S., is one of the main polluters worldwide, but it has called – it has pledged for the international community to make donations to a fund that would keep the Amazon Rainforest untouched. And so to preserve the rainforest, it is pledging for international contributions. Norway has already pledged to give roughly $1 billion.

Would the U.S. be willing to contribute to such a fund, since keeping the rainforest, standing as it is, is one of the tensions – one of the North-South tensions that you mentioned?

MR. STERN: I think that our perspective is that Brazil and the struggle to preserve the Amazon Rainforest we see as quite important. Deforestation accounts for something in the order of 20 percent of worldwide emissions, and Brazil and Indonesia are the two most important countries in that regard. So we see deforestation as a critical part of the treaty and see Brazil and the Amazon as a critical player in this.

There are a couple of different ways in which financing might be provided. One is the creation of a fund of the sort that you’re talking about. Another is by using carbon markets to essentially allow for emission reduction credits to be purchased through the – avoiding deforestation and managing forests. I think there’s a lively discussion going on right now internationally about how to – what the best mechanism is. But the United States is squarely behind strong efforts to preserve the Amazon and to work with Brazil on doing that.

MODERATOR: Yes, Patricia.

QUESTION: Thank you. Patricia Mello with O Estado, Sao Paolo, Brazil newspaper. It’s a follow-up question, actually. Do you support any kind of goals to reduce deforestation? And what is the U.S. position in terms of ethanol production?

MR. STERN: On ethanol, I think the U.S. is strongly in favor of developing biofuels in a way that’s – that is sustainable. I think it can be an important part of the overall renewable energy equation. And yes, indeed, as I said to your colleague, we think that deforestation is – has a critical role to play. There are always complicated issues to address and there’s a negotiation part of the overall negotiation that’s going on right now to try to work on those issues having to do with measurement and monitoring and things like that. But we can’t solve the problem without making the preservation of the tropical rainforest an important part of the equation.

QUESTION: Does that involve gold (ph)?

MR. STERN: I think that that’s all part of the discussion that’s going on right now, the – I think it well might, but I don’t know what the status of the discussion – I have not heard of specific numbers as much as making provision to provide credits into the overall market that would come from avoiding deforestation.

MODERATOR: Yes, here, and then there.

QUESTION: Antonita Cadiz from American Economica magazine. I was wondering, what is the position of the United States on proposals like the one presented by former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos? He has proposed not to put obligations to developing countries thinking about the global agreement in Copenhagen. He proposed not to put obligations on developing countries, but opened the possibility for each country to sign voluntary agreements that, once signed, become obligatory. So I was wondering, what is the position of the U.S. in that kind of proposals?

MR. STERN: Well, it sounds like it’s potentially interesting. I haven’t seen it yet, but I think as a general proposition, it is going to be crucial for the major developing countries – that’s not everybody, but – by any stretch, actually, but – that it’s crucial for the major developing countries to make commitments towards strong actions to cut their emissions significantly from where they would otherwise be.

You’re referencing something that sounds partly voluntary and partly binding and you – it sounds like it’s a voluntary decision as to whether a country would put something in, but that if they do put something in, then they have to do it. I think that that might work for some countries. I think at the level of the major economies, I don’t think it can be voluntary as to whether countries take action. I think it’s going to be – countries are going to have to make commitments to doing things which might be very much – might very much flow from and be based on and essentially amount to national actions.

But they would need to be national actions that are strong and significant and essentially – I mean, I think that the way I look at this just in general is that the ambition of what countries do has to be considered in terms of where the world needs to go over the course of the next 10, 20, 40 years. And so that’s fundamentally the measure of whether a program is robust enough.


QUESTION: Hajime Tobe with Kyodo News, Japanese newswire. Could you elaborate the items of the agenda this time, and what are you going to get this time? And how are you going to deal with the long-term reduction target of 50 percent as the whole developed country? And will President Obama or Secretary Clinton make a speech during this forum?

MR. STERN: On the agenda, there – do you want to take any of this, Mike?

MR. FROMAN: You want me to do the agenda?

MR. STERN: Yeah, yeah, sure, yeah.

MR. FROMAN: I think on the agenda, as Todd laid out at the beginning, there are really two purposes to this forum. One is to deal with the issues that go into the Copenhagen agreement, and the other is to talk about technology cooperation and transformational technology. So I think at this first meeting, and this is just the beginning of a process, our expectation is we will lay out how we see the forum operating and get feedback from other countries and members as to how they see the forum’s contribution to the overall effort. And I think at this first meeting there’ll be a particular focus on the transformational technologies that need to be addressed and a good exchange of views about what countries are working on and areas of potential cooperation.

We don’t expect this meeting to produce major announcements or a deliverable or a panacea. This is really the beginning of a process, the beginning of a dialogue, the beginning of a process, not the end of a process.

On your last question, we expect that both Secretary Clinton and the President will have interaction with the members while they’re here.

QUESTION: Delivering a speech?

MR. FROMAN: The precise nature of the interaction has not yet been determined, but we expect that both Secretary Clinton and the President will meet with the members of the forum.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) long-term target 50 percent. Are you pursuing – are you still pursuing that target?

MR. STERN: There was – I think part of the G-8 discussion last year in Japan included the notion of the 50 percent reduction by 2050. I don’t know whether there’s going to be further discussion. I don’t think there’s going to be further discussion at this particular meeting in April about that. There may be as we go forward.

QUESTION: There was no agreement in the MEM process so –

MR. STERN: On that – on that issue. No, I understand that. Right.

MODERATOR: Further questions? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Corine Lesnes – Le Monde) Just a tiny thing. Is it --


QUESTION: The date you chose for this conference, does it have anything to do with the 100 day of the Administration?

MR. FROMAN: No. (Laughter.) I hadn’t calculated it when we picked it.

MODERATOR: The gentleman in the back.

QUESTION: Kyle McKinnon from Deutsche Welle. You mentioned several times the difference between the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration as far as its focus in this respect toward Copenhagen and renewables and climate change. Can you – do you see a need to potentially quell the perhaps remarkable optimism overseas related to the new Administration versus the old administration?

And if you would, a second – a follow-up. Can you just give an example of the technology cooperation that you’re looking for as far as this next Monday and Tuesday? Some examples, if you would, or one example?

MR. STERN: Sure. Well, do I see a need to quell the remarkable optimism? Probably not. I have a feeling that the remarkable optimism will – like water, will find its level. And as we go forward into the harder parts of the negotiation, I’m not worried about that. I think in all seriousness, the posture of our Administration, President Obama and Secretary Clinton and the whole team of people working on this issue was met with a palpable sense of relief and satisfaction by other countries. You know, I went and made the opening remarks on behalf of the United States at the Bonn meeting, and I didn’t get – I got one paragraph into my remarks when the entire room erupted in applause. So there is a great pent-up desire for the United States to get back in the game, which we are now.

That doesn't mean it’s going to be easy, because it’s not. It’s not remotely going to be easy. But the substantive differences in positions are very large, and so I think that the fairly dramatic change in the negotiating environment based on where President Obama stands and what he’s prepared to bring to the table is great, but that doesn't mean that the road ahead is going to be easy, because it’s not. So I’m not worried about quelling optimism.

And I’m sorry, what was --

QUESTION: An example –

MR. STERN: Oh, an example. There are any number. I mean, we don’t want to dictate what those might be, but just to give you an example, it could involve cooperation on carbon capture and storage technology to – with respect to coal. It could include things like efficiency in buildings, which is a huge potential source of emissions savings. It could include cooperation on solar technology, on electric vehicles, any number of things.

I mean, what – our real focus is not to have a list of 27 possible things you can do, but to focus on a few potentially game-changing technologies where the focus of the leaders coming together could, we hope, help spur some action, some – and it doesn't necessarily have to be with all the countries there. There might be four or five countries who care about solar, or four or five countries who care about carbon capture. And this, we hope, can be a platform where leaders come together, there can be some positive things happen in that regard. So we don’t know exactly how that’s going to spin out, but that’s an example of the kind of thing we’re thinking of.

MODERATOR: Let’s see, the gentleman right here, and then the gentleman in the back, and that will have to be it.

QUESTION: Dieter Ostermann from the German newspaper Frankfurt Rundschau. You’ve talked about how Obama’s approach is different from the Bush Administration. But since you’ve been involved in the Kyoto process under the Clinton Administration, I wonder if there is any lessons learned, any difference to the Clinton approach, which, ultimately, at least in the United States, was a failed approach to the climate issue.

MR. STERN: I think two things that I would say. First of all, I will reiterate what I said earlier, which is that we think it is extremely important that we have our international position aligned with what is going on domestically with respect to the effort to get domestic legislation. You know, at the time of Kyoto, it was really a completely different context. There was a different context with respect to overall public opinion and opinion among policymakers. There is an understanding now, I think, which is completely different from what existed 12 years ago, in, for example, in the national security community of the importance of this issue, the importance of the issue not just as an environmental concern but as the potential economic driver really for the 21st century. The – what is, after all, the solution fundamentally to climate change – there are forests. Those are very important. But forests are 20 percent of the issue. A much bigger percentage of the issue is energy. And so the low-carbon transformation of the global economy is what this is all about, and that can be a huge economic driver, a job creator for the 21st century. And I think there’s an understanding both on the economic and the national security side that did not exist at all back then.

The other thing that’s different in terms of context is that we in the United States were negotiating Kyoto against essentially a domestic policy vacuum. There wasn’t any effort going on to get a bill to limit carbon pollution the way there is now. And so we then took it back into a domestic policy environment, political environment, that wasn’t prepared. And so, again, the linkage, the alignment between what’s going on domestically and going on internationally for the United States is absolutely critical. And we’re very mindful of that. That’s, I would say, an important lesson learned and an important just difference in the context.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: Ian Talley, DJN. You said that there would – countries are going to have to make reductions. What will you expect China to make in terms of reduction – long-term 2050, short-term targets? What specifically reductions in emissions will you expect?

MR. STERN: I’m not – I don’t have a number in mind. What I have said to my Chinese friends when we’ve talked about this is that, first of all, we are really quite mindful of the extraordinary progress that China is making in this area. Anybody who thinks that China is sitting around not doing anything hasn’t looked at what China is doing. I mean, they’re doing quite a bit. There’s a 20 percent intensity, a 20 percent reduction in energy intensity target from 2006 to 2010. They’ve got a target to get 15 percent renewable – 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. They have vehicle efficiency goals that are higher than ours. They have a thousand enterprise plan for getting efficiency in their big industries.

China is doing a lot. But having said that, if you look at the – if you look at the trajectory of China’s emissions, they’re still going up very rapidly because of the extraordinary success of the Chinese economy. So what – I think that what I have said and what we will continue to talk to the Chinese about is that while they are doing a lot, they’re going to have to do much, much more. It’s going to have to be quantified. They’re going to have to make a commitment to do it in the international context just the way others are making commitments.

And it’s going to need to be – whatever the set of policies are, they’re going to need to be consistent with the capacity of the world to stay generally on the track of what science is telling us. When I talk about the science in that way, I don’t ever say it’s this point – this particular point and this particular year. That’s not the issue. It’s not that you have to be at this precise point in 2020. You’ve got to be – if the science is telling us generally we have to be going in that direction, then you need to be doing things that are consistent with that. And that’s going to be very challenging for the Chinese.

And we are very eager – and Secretary Clinton made this point quite emphatically in meeting with all of the leaders that she met with, and I was with her in China – we are very eager to do this with the Chinese to work as partners and friends in trying to move forward.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you all so much. And thank you to our briefers.

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